Tuesday, May 21, 2013
Photo: Book's cover from its Wikipedia page
Almost as quick a read as its predecessor, this one is told from the point of view of Stevie, from his cigarette shop, as he looks back on his past. The cast is all here, and a few more characters show up, including one of the all-time bad women you'll ever read about--who unfortunately reminded me of a few people I used to know, but that's a review for another day.
NYC in the late 1890s is brought to vivid life again, but with a bit more of a bittersweet tinge to the tale, as Stevie also writes about his love at the time, a drug addict / prostitute who never had a chance to go straight. The very strong theme here is the role of females in that world, and, no doubt, in this one, and what, if any, males in a male-dominated era (then and now) may have helped cause some women to kill their children. The socio-politics described are too complex to go into here, but they are not easily dismissed or ignored, and the reader may recognize some of what is described. The villainess is almost as much of a victim as the actual victims--so much so that I looked up the real-life women mentioned by the author as topics of research in his acknowledgement section. These real-life women all killed their own children, and many of their men, to such a degree that you'd have to wonder if anyone in the legal or medical communities were paying attention. One woman brought one child to the hospital, dead. Then another. Then another...until all twelve were dead. Another woman killed off her children, and literally dozens of men who came to her farm to win her favors--favors that were advertised in area newspapers. This woman was often seen digging in the middle of the night in her hog pen--and she'd had dozens of heavy trunks delivered to her property.
At any rate, this one has more than a few things in common thematically with my own WIP, including how women are treated in a male-dominated society. This novel also ends with a slow declining arc, more than a little bit after the main conflict has been resolved, just as mine does.
Anyway, great writing (except for an aboriginal hitman that didn't work for me), great historical detail, and some strong wistful nostalgia at the end that readers older than 30 should recognize, all coalesce in a novel that was quickly read and thoroughly appreciated.
Published in 1997, this has been the last in the series, and you have to wonder why. Both were tremendous bestsellers, and this second one mentions frequently that the group was involved in many other cases, both all together and, for Sara Howard, by herself, so there's plenty of other potential material to write about...and yet Caleb Carr never has. Here's to hoping he comes out with another one soon.